The Gotmar Festival of Chhindwara, a centuries-old tradition, continues to captivate us with its violent and enigmatic nature.But how did it all begin? What events and circumstances led to the evolution of this logic-defying practice that essentially celebrates a senseless and violent passion.In Part-II of my exploration into this perplexing ritual, we delve deeper into the origins of this bloody rivalry, the battlefield i.e. the village of Pandhurna, and the need for its transformation into a civilised and sensible event.But how did this blood-soaked rivalry even begin? The local lore, passed down through generations, provides some insight, though the true genesis remains uncertain.
The Many Stories of Origin
The true genesis of this blood-soaked rivalry may forever remain shrouded in uncertainty, but local lore offers several intriguing tales.
One tale harkens back to a tragic love story, echoing and reminiscing the centuries old poignant tale of immortal lovers, Heer and Ranjha. It all started when a young man from Pandhurna fell deeply in love with a girl from Sawargaon, a village across the Jaam River. Their love was a source of pride and prestige for both villages, a forbidden union that could not be tolerated. In a bold move, the young man crossed the river to Sawargaon, eloping with his beloved. As they attempted to return to Pandhurna, villagers from both sides gathered, their anger erupting into a fierce battle.
With no weapons at hand, they hurled stones with savage intensity. The consequences were tragic—many were injured, and the young lovers met a gruesome end, dying in each other's arms. Rather than bringing closure or peace, their deaths fuelled the flames of hatred and vengeance. The tree in the river, the red flag atop it, and the stone-throwing contest became lasting symbols of this tragic love story.
Another plausible story related to its origin links the tradition to the Marathas of Nagpur, who had conquered the local Gond chieftains. Reportedly, the Maratha commanders stationed their armies on either side of the Jaam River and introduced stone-throwing as a military exercise to keep their troops battle-ready. Over time, this exercise transformed into a bloody rivalry between the two villages.
A more symbolic interpretation suggests that the tradition was born from the belief that two days after the violent engagement, on Kalanki Chaturthi, it was inauspicious to see the moon. To avert bad luck and disgrace, people resorted to a bizarre practice: abusing and throwing stones at their own homes. This act of self-punishment eventually evolved into the peculiar and dangerous tradition of hurling stones at the neighbouring village across the Jaam River.
While all or any of these origin stories might be apocryphal, the one undeniable truth is that the Gotmar Mela persists, defying all civilized logic. Despite efforts from the administration and civil society, the villagers of Pandhurna and Savargaon remain steadfast, unwilling to abandon or even modify this violent demonstration of tradition—a tradition whose rationale is, at best, blurred.
The Perseverance of Gotmar Mela
It is somewhat ironic that in an otherwise placid and law-abiding region of the state lies an enclave that celebrates a violent anachronism just for one day and allows it to endure in the name of tradition. Individually, and in private conversation, the residents don’t offer any justification to continue with this horrid practice yet are equally reluctant to question it. Surprisingly it is the younger elements, presumably more progressive, who seem to favour its continuance. The fact that this pernicious tradition continues is as much a sad commentary on the hold that irrational minds exercise on an otherwise reasonable population, as it reflects the perfidious lack of courage among the youth to challenge illogical practices. Its continuation, without a clear rationale, is a perplexing testament to the compelling power of tradition and the reluctance of the younger generation to challenge it.
Pandhurna – A Quaint Paradoxical Village:
Pandhurna itself is a quaint municipality in the Chhindwara district of Madhya Pradesh. It may have been declared an urban conglomeration, but it essentially remains a typical Indian village where farming reigns as the primary occupation of the populace. The fertile black soil is ideal for cultivating crops like oranges and cotton, which thrive in this environment. Other crops include soybeans, groundnuts, cauliflower, gram, and wheat. The village also boasts a few oil and cotton mills, as well as food processing plants. Pandhurna is renowned for its cotton ginning and pressing factories, which have become integral to the local economy.
A Call for Transformation
Could this bloody duel between the villages be sublimated into a more passionate and involved rivalry that is healthy and constructive. Is there a way to transform this violent rivalry into a more constructive and passionate competition? It is high time, the political leadership, local and provincial, intercedes and a resolute administration puts an end to this violently undesirable activity and persuades the two villages to evolve this anachronistic and antediluvian practice and sublimate it into a sports and athletics match between them. The introduction of a prestigious trophy could symbolize the strength, resilience, and superiority of the winner.
In the future, such a practice will likely become untenable. Wisdom dictates its evolution into something civil and dignified rather than its perpetuation as a passion of diminished value and meaningless heritage.
Reflection Must Replace Rivalry
The Gotmar Mela of Chhindwara is a paradox—a tradition that transcends time, a violent celebration of rivalry, and a brutal testament to human endurance. It is a reminder that history is not always built on logic and reason, but often on the enduring strength of tradition, even when that tradition is as bloody as it is baffling.
As long as the villagers of Pandhurna and Sawargaon gather by the Jaam River, stones in hand, this peculiar ritual will continue to capture our imagination, prompting reflection on the depths of human tradition and the mysteries of our shared past. Yet, it also leaves us lamenting a legacy that is ludicrously senseless.
Ruefully, the continuance of Gotmar reminds us of reason, logic and dignity getting brutally subjugated by a meaningless passion, indeed, a reflection on all of us!
(Uday Kumar Varma is an IAS officer. Retired as Secretary, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting)